Ontogenetic scaling patterns and functional anatomy of the pelvic limb musculature in emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae)

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Abstract

Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) are exclusively terrestrial, bipedal and cursorial ratites with some similar biomechanical characteristics to humans. Their growth rates are impressive, as their body mass increases eighty-fold from hatching to adulthood whilst maintaining the same mode of locomotion throughout life. These ontogenetic characteristics stimulate biomechanical questions about the strategies that allow emus to cope with their rapid growth and locomotion, which can be partly addressed via scaling (allometric) analysis of morphology. In this study we have collected pelvic limb anatomical data (muscle architecture, tendon length, tendon mass and bone lengths) and calculated muscle physiological cross sectional area (PCSA) and average tendon cross sectional area from emus across three ontogenetic stages (n = 17, body masses from 3.6 to 42 kg). The data were analysed by reduced major axis regression to determine how these biomechanically relevant aspects of morphology scaled with body mass. Muscle mass and PCSA showed a marked trend towards positive allometry (26 and 27 out of 34 muscles respectively) and fascicle length showed a more mixed scaling pattern. The long tendons of the main digital flexors scaled with positive allometry for all characteristics whilst other tendons demonstrated a less clear scaling pattern. Finally, the two longer bones of the limb (tibiotarsus and tarsometatarsus) also exhibited positive allometry for length, and two others (femur and first phalanx of digit III) had trends towards isometry. These results indicate that emus experience a relative increase in their muscle forcegenerating capacities, as well as potentially increasing the force-sustaining capacities of their tendons, as they grow. Furthermore, we have clarified anatomical descriptions and provided illustrations of the pelvic limbmuscle-tendon units in emus.

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Lamas, L. P., Main, R. P., & Hutchinson, J. R. (2014). Ontogenetic scaling patterns and functional anatomy of the pelvic limb musculature in emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae). PeerJ, 2014(12). https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.716

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